Filling in the Blank Spots in Soviet History

Yuri Afanasyev, one of the leading popular advocates of the revaluation of domestic and world history in the Soviet Union, takes his argument further, in an interview for History Today with Albert Sirotkin of Novosti.

Seldom has the link between history and contemporary political debate been so graphically demonstrated as in recent months in the Soviet Union. The debate over the Gorbachev reforms has stressed that the prerequisite for perestroika (reconstruction) is glasnost (openness) – not just about present failings and deficiencies but about past episodes and the performance of Soviet rulers since 1917.

Yuri Afanasyev, head of the Moscow History and Archives Institute since 1986, has dealt with controversial episodes in the Revolution's 70-year history openly and objectively, more in tune with the guidelines and standards accepted by historians in the academic community outside the USSR. Such views have plunged Afanasyev into the thick of controversy and polemic in the Soviet Union – witness his hotly-debated, if eventually successful, candidacy for the recent Party Conference. Below he talks to Albert Sirotkin.

Question: Is there any connection between perestroika in society and the rejuvenation of history as a science?

There is a direct relationship between the two. The basic economic, social and cultural patterns in the USSR were shaped during the period of Stalinism. So were some very clichéd thoughts. We are now struggling to overcome the aftermath of this period. It is impossible to identify the heritage of a past which is hanging like a milestone around our necks, without looking back; without history.

For example look at the period when we went over to a system of strict centralised planning. This was at the turn of the 1930s, when the words bore little resemblance to the deeds. Soviet society was losing its identity, we did not have a clear-cut idea of what we were as a social order – as a community of people. A spade had ceased to be called a spade!

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